America is in such dire need for baby formula that it might enlist the help of military planes to import emergency supplies from Europe.
This week, President Biden announced the start of Operation Fly Formula, which called on the Pentagon to use contracted commercial aircraft to move formula into the United States as quickly as possible. The first flight, from Zurich, Switzerland, is expected to take place in the coming days.
But on Friday, the Pentagon said military aircraft might also be used for these flights in some cases.
“I do want to stipulate… it is possible that through Operation Fly Formula that we would determine that the most efficient way to do it would be on a gray tail, a U.S. military aircraft,” said Defense Department spokesman John Kirby.
Kirby said it is still unclear whether a commercial or military aircraft would fly the first shipment in, but said those decisions would be made in the very near future.
“We’re doing the sourcing work and the sourcing right now to arrange for the first flight to get… formula from Zurich, Switzerland to the United States,” he said. “I don’t have a specific update for you in terms of exactly what carrier it’s going to be.”
Kirby said his understanding is that the Pentagon’s only role in the operation is using aircraft to transport baby formula, and that it would have no role in quality control checks or getting the product to store shelves.
The shortage of infant formula that has affected families across the nation has become a major political issue in Washington over the last few weeks. On Friday, questions about the Pentagon’s role in Operation Fly Formula dominated the daily press briefing that has mostly been occupied with Ukraine since late February.
The shortage occurred when federal regulators shut down an Abbot Nutrition plant in Michigan over fears that contaminated formula led to the death of two infants. The Associated Press has reported that it’s not clear whether the suspect bacteria came from the Abbot plant.
The company this week reached an agreement with the Food and Drug Administration to reopen the plant, but it’s unclear how quickly production might be ramped up.
It isn’t clear what steps, if any, the government took to make up for supply shortages that might have been anticipated by the closing of a major baby formula producer. At the same time, the Biden administration has been criticized for allowing the federal government to move supplies of formula to migrant children entering the U.S. illegally from the southern border.
Just three other companies – Mean Johnson, Nestle and Perrigo – product baby formula in the U.S.
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